Bipolar disorder (BD) may be a type of neurodivergence. The exact cause of BD is unclear, but it might involve differences in brain functioning and structure. If so, a person with bipolar could identify as neurodivergent.

Neurodiversity is a concept used to reframe how people think about “atypical” brain functions and structures, with a focus on celebrating and destigmatizing variation.

Bipolar disorder (BD) is a mental health condition associated with shifts in mood and energy levels and other symptoms. A person with BD may experience episodes of mania or elevated mood, depressive episodes, or “mixed” episodes with manic and depressive symptoms.

The exact cause of BD is unknown, but functional and structural brain variations may be a factor, which could mean it fits the category of a neurodiverse condition.

This article reviews neurodiversity and BD and how the two relate to each other.

A walking woman covered in shadows.Share on Pinterest
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Neurodiversity is a scientific concept centered on the idea that neurological conditions, such as autism, dyslexia, and others, are not the result of “issues” with the brain. Instead, proponents of this view state that differences in the brain represent normal variations in how it functions.

In other words, neurodiversity takes a more positive approach to neurodevelopmental conditions. Rather than focusing on challenges neurodiverse people may experience, this concept emphasizes the strengths and talents of individuals with these variations.

Judy Singer first used the term “neurodivergent” in the 1990s. As an autistic woman, she wanted the world to view autistic people not as having a disability but rather as having a unique way of viewing and interacting with the world. Since its first use, people have applied the term to several neurological conditions.

Others may refer to people with variations in brain functioning as being neurodivergent. Similarly, they may refer to people whose brains function according to “typical” standards of society as “neurotypical.”

In highlighting the strengths of neurodiverse individuals, another goal is to use the wide variation that exists across society to help increase productivity and innovation.

Learn more about the terms “neurotypical” and “neurodiverse.”

To answer the question of whether bipolar is a type of neurodivergence requires an understanding of each.

Neurodivergence covers a wide variety of “disorders” that result from differences in brain functioning or structure from what doctors generally consider typical. Advocates for understanding neurodiversity aim to transform people’s view of these variations from one of negativity, in which they may focus on challenges neurodiverse individuals may experience, to instead focus on the strengths people may associate with these variations.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke lists over 400 neurological “disorders,” including autism and dyslexia. Bipolar does not appear on this list.

However, the author of an article in the AMA Journal of Ethics noted BD as a neurologic disorder alongside autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They also pointed out that people with BD showed greater creativity and novelty-seeking than the control groups in several older studies.

The inclusion of bipolar as a neurodivergence may be due to the current understanding of its causes. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, while the exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, experts suspect it may result from a combination of factors, including genetics and brain function and structure.

Since BD may be the result of functional and structural variations in the brain, it is possible that it fits the description of neurodivergence or diversity. Organizations such as the International Bipolar Foundation have also referred to BD as a neurodiverse condition, pointing out its impact on a person’s identity.

Learn more about the link between bipolar and creativity.

BD may be a type of neurodivergence since differences in brain functioning and structure may be a potential cause of the condition. As a result, a person with bipolar could identify as neurodivergent.

Having BD can also increase the likelihood of a person developing or having other mental health or neurodivergent conditions. These may include:

Sometimes, a person may receive a misdiagnosis of borderline personality disorder or psychosis due to similarities in symptoms and signs.

People with more than one condition should speak with their doctor about the best treatment options, as some medications used to treat other conditions can trigger manic episodes.

Living with BD can be challenging. Approaching the condition as a neurodivergence rather than a disability may be helpful for some in getting a better handle on their treatment and honing in on their strengths.

Long-term treatment can often help, even for people with more severe forms of the condition. Treatments can include psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of these approaches. In cases where these are unsuccessful, a doctor may recommend other therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy.

A person may also find that lifestyle and habit changes help with symptoms. This can include eating a healthy diet and exercising.

With appropriate treatment, a person with BD can have a high quality of life.

Some may classify bipolar disorder as a type of neurodiverse condition. These conditions result from differences in how a person’s brain functions or is structured from what doctors generally consider typical.

While this classification may help a person focus on the positive aspects of the diagnosis, it does not necessarily mean any serious changes to treatment are necessary.

Whether a person identifies as being neurodiverse or not, they should continue to work with their doctors and therapists to ensure continued success with their treatment.